Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What About Socialization?

From the time I left public school (3rd grade), I heard adults inquiring, "But what about about socialization?"

I learned to parrot the answers offered by my parents and their friends: we socialize with each other, we get along with adults because we are not artificially segregated from other age groups, children don't learn anything good from their peers, siblings can be best friends for life, and so on.

From these responses and others, I assumed that "socialization" was just another noun form of "social", as in "Ladies' Aid Social" and "Strawberry Social". That it was semantically equivalent to the gerund "socializing". Perhaps our parent-teachers thought so, too.

Then I found Keeping Them Out of the Hands of Satan by Susan Rose.

Published in 1988 when the Christian day school movement and its parallel, homeschooling, were in full swing, Keeping Them Out of the Hands of Satan is an ethnography in which Rose, a sociologist, shares her careful observations and comparisons of two very different church-run private schools. Though I had never attended a religious school, this paragraph felt comfortable:

"Evangelicals are engaged in cultural production, in creating new forms of educational experience for themselves and their children. . . ." 

Yes, they would definitely say so. This was familiar ground for any homeschooled kid.

But, there was more.

"Socialization is the process by which people and institutions transmit the values, beliefs, and behaviors necessary for appropriate functioning in their particular culture to others. It is a recruitment process--whether recruiting children into adult worlds or resocializing adults into different roles or a new subculture. Socialization involves 'the whole process by which an individual born with behavioral potentialities of enormously wide range is confined within a much narrower range--the range of what is customary and acceptable for him according the standards of his group.'"

I was dumbfounded.

Is that what they meant? Those people who asked with concern, "What about socialization?" Did they know that socialization meant learning how to function appropriately in the culture? And did my answers relieve their anxiety or simply cause them to shake their heads? Suddenly I wished I could remember who they were, those grown-ups who had expressed interest and concern in my educational experience and assimilation into society.

My mind immediately jumped to the night I picked up my little girl from a children's event at church. "The other kids said I was cutting in line," she reported. "What is 'cutting in line'?" And then I was a kindergartener again, standing in the hallway with my friends and classmates, waiting my turn at the water fountain.

Actually, children learn a lot of useful things from their peers. They observe each other; teach each other; compete with each other; challenge, encourage, reward, and even punish each other. Through peers, children learn the bounds of propriety and the range of acceptable behavior. They interact with individuals who share the same internal values despite external differences like style of dress, style of hair, favorite foods, word pronunciation, vocabulary, personal habits and family rituals. Exposed to the same influences and shaped by the same events, they share in the collective experience of their generation. With their peers, children also get to practice self-differentiation in ways that are simply not available within the cocoon of the home.

After reading Rose's entire book, I reevaluated my homeschooling career. Months later, convinced by a multiplicity of factors, we enrolled our oldest in 4th grade. Two years later, she is already better socialized and more differentiated than I was when I finished homeschool "high school".

For more discussion about socialization and homeschooling:

"What is Fringe?" --In a 1997 survey, 13% of homeschooled children did not play with people outside their families!
"Socialization Not a Problem"--a 2009 Washington Times article based on an HSLDA study
"Homeschool Mis-Socialization"--why so many of us homeschoolers feel we are missing a key piece
"Homeschooling, Socialization, and Me"--the experience of a homeschooled student
"Homeschool Parents Need to Take Socialization Seriously"--socialization challenges for adult homeschooolers
"Mrs. Karen, You are Laughing at Real People"--more real stories by homeschoolers


  1. I suspect that it's possible to both homeschool *AND* have your kids out and about enough, and involved in activities enough for them to learn what they need from "socialization". But not the brand we were raised with. I went out into the world (at my first real job) feeling like someone had forgotten to teach me the basics (of social interaction). But, you know, when you go to a tiny church, and they are pretty much the only people you see outside your family, this is pretty much a given.

    1. Possibly, it is, Lora. And it is surely a lot more possible today than it was when I started my homeschooling experience in 1984--before h/s co-ops, sports teams, debate clubs, and orchestras. I just haven't seen a good example.

      I would argue that it is still an artificially segregated environment if you spend all day only with people from 2-parent families who share the same statement of faith. :)
      (For example, http://teachtc.org/teach.php?page_location=AboutUs )